To the editors:
Music critic Dennis Polkow complains (September 9, p. 44) that the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra performed several works that had also been played this summer by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Ravinia. I always thought the audiences for these two summer festivals were quite disjoint.
Does Mr. Polkow envision thousands of jaded music lovers shuttling back and forth between Ravinia and Grant Park, grumbling about having to endure a “war-horse” like the Beethoven Violin Concerto twice in the same summer? Does Mr. Polkow want Grant Park to wait until after Ravinia has published next year’s programs before selecting its own 1989 repertoire from whatever works aren’t already taken?
E. Madison Park
Dennis Polkow replies:
The issue at stake here is not so much repetition of standard repertoire as it is what constitutes innovative programming. There has been a tendency, which has been evident in many summer music reviews, to sing the praises of Grant Park for presenting innovative programming at a mediocre and even substandard level but to bash Ravinia for presenting conservative programming at a first-class level. Yes, it’s wonderful to hear new and unusual works, but it can be more of a distraction than a revelation when they are presented in an unimaginative way.
I would like to see Chicago Symphony management place a two-year ban on scores of Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, and Shostakovich, whose works have been played so often in recent concerts. Symphonic programming is such that critics and audiences know what they are about to hear before they hear it, and the only suspense left is how well each piece is to be interpreted and how well a program will work as a whole.
Innovative programming demands an understanding of what an orchestra can and cannot do. Ravinia is realistic, even overly conservative, about this. But Ravinia believes that it is better to do standard repertoire really well than to add to the stereotype that new music is confusing and incomprehensible by presenting such works grossly underrehearsed. Grant Park has little sense of the limitations of its orchestra and hired soloists, and therefore the results of its “innovative” programming are usually far less than satisfying.
As to the audiences for Grant Park and Ravinia being different, I am sure that is true, but I am also sure that the similar programs help create that difference. What is the point of hearing the Beethoven Violin Concerto played by Mark Kaplan at Grant Park if you’ve already heard it played by Itzhak Perlman at Ravinia?
The idea of Grant Park waiting to choose its repertoire until Ravinia’s has been announced is a splendid idea and would create more audience interest in what both organizations are doing. Look at the wonderful way that the Lyric Opera and the Chicago Opera Theater coexist, precisely because COT has deliberately structured itself to complement rather than compete with Lyric.